University of Sussex report suggests homophobic bias in asylum system
London, UK – 11 August 2021
Guest post by Aaron Gates-Lincoln of the Immigration Advice Service
The UK immigration system is a harsh and brutal environment for all migrants. It is designed to be a treacherous journey through a cruel and intricate jungle of tests, detention, interrogations and application processes; all trying to prove authenticity and deservedness. However, it is clearer now than ever that LGBT+ migrants, especially those seeking asylum and refuge, are often being treated as ‘bogus’ and endangered by the doubts of immigration officials.
Many LGBT+ individuals seeking asylum are fleeing from countries in which they would be persecuted, beaten and even killed for their sexuality and gender identity or expression.
In 2021, there are still 69 countries in the world that criminalise homosexuality, with nearly half of these being in Africa. However, despite LGBT+ being legal in the UK, the support for LGBT+ refugees who seek a safe haven here leaves a lot to be desired. The UK government too frequently seems to have little concern for the welfare and safety of LGBT+ people fleeing persecution in other parts of the world.
Studies by the University of Sussex have found that it is getting increasingly harder to win asylum in Britain based on sexual orientation. Government data has shown that only 22% of claims by LGBT+ individuals in 2017 were approved, down from 39% in 2015. With some 2,000 people every year applying for asylum based on the oppression of their sexuality or gender identity, that is around 1,500 LGBT+ people a year whose asylum applications are rejected and who are at risk of deportation to their country of origin.
It has been shown that there is a widespread “culture of disbelief” and an often “impossible burden of proof” for all asylum applicants in the UK. When it comes to LGBT+ individuals, this results in 4 out of 10 applicants being rejected because decision-makers did not properly assess the risk of persecution in the person’s country of origin. More than a third of LGBTs seeking asylum felt that Home Office interviewers did not listen to their stories or ask the right questions.
The team from the University of Sussex have called for a major overhaul of the system, with the problem being epitomised by the fact that one in three LGBT+ asylum seekers are rejected simply because officials do not believe their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
Moira Dustin, leader of the University’s four-year project has stated: “These findings of course sit within a broader picture of the ‘hostile environment’ to immigration. But it’s even easier for officials to turn away people applying for asylum on sexual orientation and gender identity grounds, because they are even less likely than other claimants to have evidence to support their claim; what can they produce, when they’re in danger and fleeing? How likely are they to have with them photos or letters proving past relationships?”.
This is exactly the issue. It is both cruel and dehumanising to expect an LGBT+ individual to have to prove a part of their existence, which they have been required to hide for their own safety and well-being. Leila Zadeh, executive director of Rainbow Migration (formerly the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group), stated that they have “seen people whose claims have been refused in part because they didn’t use enough emotional language” in interviews. She went on to say, “It’s incredibly difficult for somebody to tell the Home Office about this aspect of identity that they have never ever spoken about and that they feel ashamed to talk about”.
A possible reason for the difficulties that LGBT+ asylum claimants experience is that some Home Office interviewers and lawyers have inadequate awareness and education on LGBT+ issues. They fail to understand or consider the persecution that a LGBT+ person may face if returned to their home country. Too often there is disbelief about the homosexuality of masculine gay men and feminine lesbian women.
Are they aware that it is illegal to be homosexual in the 69 countries where most LGBT+ refugees flee from? And that LGBTs are jailed, beaten, tortured and even murdered there? Do they have a nuanced understanding of LGBT+ life and relationships, beyond stereotypical representations of what a LGBT+ person looks, sounds and acts like?
Some LGBT+ refugees have poor English and need interpreters but these interpreters often hail from the country the refugee has fled from and they share the homophobic values of the home country. This has led to accusations of poor quality and homophobic translations that have undermined the applicant’s case for asylum.
If Home Office officials were checked for prejudice and better informed, more objective and humane assessments could be made, such as easing the “burden of proof”. This would relieve claimants of the stress and humiliation of having to go through so many hoops and hurdles prove their sexuality or gender identity – and help them secure a fairer outcome.
In response to the University of Sussex’s findings, a spokesperson for the Home Office said the UK “had a proud record of providing protection for asylum seekers fleeing prosecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” It rejected the findings and data, without addressing the substantive specific evidence of a biased, flawed system.
There is an urgent need for the Conservative government to overhaul the asylum system to ensure that the LGBT+ people arriving in the UK, after escaping persecution abroad, are provided with the necessary protection they deserve, so they can make it onto the pathways of refugee status, indefinite leave to remain and citizenship.